You have spent a great deal of your time at school representing young people from across Clackmannanshire and nationally. Can you explain your drive and motivation to do this work?
A lot of my motivation comes from the impact I have been able to make in terms of increasing the influence of young people in Clackmannanshire: over the time I’ve volunteered as a youth representative I really felt that I have improved the standing of young people in the eyes of decision makers and groups. As well as being supported by some amazing members of staff at Dollar Academy, I’ve also always been supported by my colleagues both locally and nationally, and I really think that they represent some of the best aspects of Scotland as a whole!
Describe your current roles in helping to support and represent young people in Youth Parliament, both in Clackmannanshire and in Scotland.
I’ve actually managed to collect quite a few roles over the past year and a bit! I began representing young people locally as a Youth Councillor within the Clackmannanshire Youth Council (a group representing young people from across the Wee County aged 12 to 25), and I am now the Vice Chair of this group. I also represent the views of the young people in our area on a national stage as a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Clackmannanshire, and following on from the election I won earlier this year, I have recently stepped into the role as a Member of the (UK) Youth Parliament for our region of Mid Scotland and Fife.
How does it feel to represent Dollar Academy on both the local and national stage?
The main way I’ve felt I have represented Dollar Academy has been locally within the community, as within Clackmannanshire I’ve often been the first pupil that many local organisations and groups have met! This has sometimes felt like a lot of pressure, as having organisations form their impression of not only you – but a whole school – on your conduct is quite a responsibility. However, throughout all the time I’ve spent volunteering as a youth representative (over 100 hours in the last 6 months alone), I really think I have presented an organised, confident, and well-spoken face for Dollar Academy to local groups and organisations, and I hope in years to come that pupils from our school will continue to build on my progress.
Yes! I was very kindly invited by the organisation Volunteer Scotland – who help facilitate the Cross Party Group – to discuss my time volunteering as a youth representative, and I was very honoured to be asked to contribute to such an important group.
The Cross Party Group itself was a fantastic experience. It was chaired by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, and I had the pleasure to hear from volunteers from across Scotland – including the National Autistic Society and the inS:PIRE project – as well as also talk about my own experiences of volunteering and highlight some of the obstacles to volunteering young people face.
How have you managed to balance these roles against your studies at Dollar Academy?
I’ve found volunteering as a youth representative very different from other experiences I have had volunteering in past. If you’re volunteering at a community garden you never really have to take the trowel home with you and keep on digging, but volunteering as a Youth Councillor or as an MSYP can very easily seep into your day-to-day life. Throughout my last two years at Dollar I found the work I had set myself to do as a youth representative blend together with my school work: I’d end up quickly trying to send an email to a Councillor during English, or end up taking a break from writing a Dissertation at home to write a letter to a Council Officer in my free time. I don’t think I have always found a good balance between both workloads, but even when I’ve suffered because of it I have never regretted pushing myself further to try and excel both in representing my community and doing well in my coursework!
I think that’s a very hard question, and I know everyone will have their own answer. I do have my own very strong opinions on some of the issues that face the country, but youth representatives – be it MSYPs or Youth Councillors – almost always have to remain impartial and unpartisan in their roles, though I’d be more than happy to go over them off the record! However, I think the best thing that young people can do is find something they care about and try and make a difference. Whether it’s a pothole outside your house or a larger national issue, find out if there’s an organisation that you can get involved in or bug your representatives: your MP, one of your MSPs, or even your local MSYP and youth representatives!
What guidance and/or encouragement would you offer to young people looking to get involved in youth representation today?
Wherever you are there will almost always be some way to get involved within your community! One way to get involved is to become an MSYP: across Scotland elections will be held around June 2018 in order to find MSYPs for the next term, and it really is a fantastic way to volunteer to represent young people in your area. Another way is through local youth councils or forums: in Clackmannanshire our local Youth Council has an opportunity for young people to stand as Youth Councillors in the next few months, so if you live in the Wee County and want to get involved as a youth representative, there is an opportunity coming up!
I really can’t encourage young people enough to make the most of 2018 (the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People) to get involved in making sure young people are heard in their communities.
If you would like to contact Huw Sherrard as a youth representative you can email him atHuw.Sherrard.MSYP@syp.org.uk, or find him on Twitter at @HuwSherrardMSYP